Unlearning Scarcity, Cultivating Solidarity
Part 2: Understanding Transformative Solidarity And Creating Personal Pathways to Solidarity
Last Updated: 9.9.2020
Written By: Jenny Dorsey, Sarah Hong, Emily Chen, Sarah Koff
Edited By: Edric Huang, KarYee Au, Madie Lee, Phoebe Yu, Janii Yazon, Hanna Seabright
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Table of Contents
The Genesis of this Document
An overview of our methodology, an explanation of goals, and acknowledgement of limitations
What Is Scarcity Mentality?
The unpacking of the origins of scarcity as individuals and groups, specifically as it manifests within Asian American communities
The Social & Structural Weaponization of Scarcity
An examination of how the scarcity mentality has been utilized for sociopolitical agendas
Click to jump to section
Understanding the necessary investment and work for solidarity, and reviewing historical instances of Asian American solidarity
Ways for individuals to combat scarcity and leverage their personal, professional, and communal networks to cultivate solidarity practices
Important terms referenced in this toolkit
Relevant resources to continue this work beyond this toolkit
Contextualizing Solidarity Within the Asian American Community
Overcoming the scarcity mindset requires a fundamental belief that there are enough resources to fulfill every person’s needs, and uplifting -- instead of competing against -- one another results in a better and more satisfying outcome for everyone. In order to effectively support individuals and groups who may be different from us, we need to understand the issues they are facing, how they want those needs to be addressed, and the best way we can help them do so on their terms.
In these next two chapters, we will explore how to cultivate a sense of solidarity for Asian American communities with the tools and knowledge that academics, activists, and leaders before us have successfully implemented.
What is Solidarity?
Solidarity is generally defined as awareness or group unity based on shared identities, interests, or shifting opportunity structures. We particularly like this intersectional approach to solidarity, which describes it as an ongoing process of creating ties and coalitions across social groups by negotiating power asymmetries. Doing so requires representation of intersectionally marginalized individuals and groups within current social structures, and recognition of their unique experiences within larger socio-political systems of power.
For the purposes of this document, we’ll also refer to two verticals of solidarity:
In-group solidarity is when solidarity is expressed within a group, which can be formed on axes such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and profession. For Asian Americans, note that in-group solidarity still faces challenges due to hierarchies such as colorism and classism.
Out-group solidarity is when solidarity is expressed by members of one group to another group. For example, the recent calls for Asian Americans and other racial groups to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
To properly understand whom we are referring to when we say we “stand in solidarity” with others, we must examine solidarity on the axis of intersectionality.
Intersectionality is a theoretical framework developed by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw that posits multiple social categories (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status) intersect at the micro level (individual experience) to reveal interlocking systems of privilege and/or oppression at the macro (social-structural) level, such as a combination of racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
For example, a cisgender Asian male can experience oppression based on race while also experiencing privilege for being a cisgender male.
It is important to note that intersectionality is not additive, or a “checklist” of identity categories. That is, we cannot fully understand a disabled South Asian woman’s experience by understanding “disability”, “Asianness”, and “womanhood” separately, because different forms of oppression build on each other to produce a new, specific expression of oppression.
When evaluating our commitment to being in solidarity with others, we need to look at who we tend to prioritize and why. For example, as Asian Americans fight for equity in the U.S., we need to ask ourselves: are we constructing a “better future” for Asian Americans only based on the ideas of cisgender, affluent Asian Americans? Or perhaps those who are conventionally attractive and able-bodied? Who is being erased, mis or underrepresented in our conversations for change?
For Asian Americans being in solidarity with the Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities -- who are we seeking out, listening to, and supporting (financially or otherwise) in those groups? What voices from those groups are we ignoring, consciously or unconsciously?
As Deepa Iyer writes, “The word transformative is important because it signifies a change, an evolution, and a maturation. Contrast this with a transactional practice, which begins and ends with the action.” We also like this explainer graphic that ties transformative solidarity seamlessly with the rejection of scarcity: “when oppressed communities choose to forgo something that would benefit them...because it comes at the expense of other oppressed communities.”
One participant built upon this idea of solidarity as:
“Not just standing up for someone with a different identity and might not have the same privileges...but looking to actively dismantle [systemic obstacles they face] using our own privilege.”
Another participant explained that solidarity requires “disrupting the narrative of what is considered ‘normal’ and what is not. It is daily work.” This includes taking steps such as:
1. Personally & publicly acknowledging our own privilege and complicity within the systems that oppress those we are allies to. Specifically as Asian Americans, we often experience privilege through our relative proximity to whiteness -- especially those of us with lighter skin tones.
2. Stepping out of our privilege in order to take action on behalf of those we are allies to, because fighting for change requires commitment and, sometimes, personal sacrifice. (For example, speaking out about racism even when it may cost you preferential treatment at work.)
3. Resisting opportunities to engage in structural inequities that benefit us. (For example, upper and upper-middle class Queens residents in NYC who would have benefited from the creation of a second Amazon HQ joining the fight to keep the company out.)
Solidarity is also a team effort. As one participant shared, their favorite quote is one from Jane Fonda: “When I was young, I thought that activism was a sprint. You know, if I just go fast enough everything can be fixed really quick. And then I got a little older and I realized that activism is more like a marathon, and I slowed down and learned to pace myself. But now that I'm seriously old, I realized that it's really a relay race. You pass the baton.”
Historical Examples of Asian American Solidarity
While Asian Americans are stereotyped to be politically inactive and/or uninterested, in actuality this is completely untrue. To create a sense of powerlessness, a commonly-used tactic is deodorization (a term coined by Kenneth B. Morris), or systematically erasing instances of solidarity from history, therefore depriving marginalized groups from having the resources, knowledge, vocabulary, and tools that enable solidarity.
This is often done in conjunction with “the whitening of history” (as stated by Malcolm X) to present a white-centric view of the past that normalizes ongoing systems of oppression and silences the voices of activists throughout history. For example, removing the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance founding march for justice in the beating of Rodney King in the 1992 LA Riots.
In fact, the term ‘Asian American’ itself was coined in 1968 by activist and historian Yuji Ichioka, as a “political identity imbued with self-definition and empowerment, signaling a new way of thinking and subverting the Orientalist tradition of lumping all Asians together”. Many of these ideas of self-determination and rejection of assimilation during the Asian Civil Rights Movement were inspired by the Black Power Movement and its leaders.
There have been and continue to be Asian American activists and organizations working to reclaim Asian American history, fight for better rights, and stand in solidarity with other marginalized groups. These below examples acknowledge the work that has been done, and we hope will empower more Asian Americans to become politically and civically engaged to chart the course of our collective future.
Oxnard Strike of 1903: In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers banded together to create the first multiracial labor union, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association.
Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s: In 1965, the Filipinx-led labor group allied with the Mexican labor group to demand better conditions and pay leading to an international boycott of grapes, peaceful marches, and protests over 5 years that changed the course of the farm labor movement.
Third World Liberation Front Strike of 1968 - 1969: This strike began with the formation of the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition that included Black, Asian, and Latinx students. It resulted in the establishment of an ethnic studies department at SF State University and UC Berkeley, eventually leading to the creation of ethnic studies departments across the nation.
Asian American Civil Rights Movement (1960s - 1980s): The 1960s was a turning point for Asian Americans in acknowledging their multi-ethnic roots as Americans and taking action to fight for equality. This time was marked by the birth of the Yellow Power movement, where various coalitions were formed to fight for Asian American causes.
South Sacramento's Afro-Asian Solidarity (2018): Following the police killings of Stephon Clark (a Black man with a South Asian fiancee with whom they shared two young children) and Darell Richards (a 19-year-old mixed race Black-Hmong youth), a year of Afro-Asian protests against state-sanctioned violence took hold across South Sacramento.
Solidarity, Allyship, and Co-opting
Solidarity vs. Allyship
Solidarity and allyship are sometimes used interchangeably when they are not the same concept; other times, behaviors done on behalf of solidarity and/or allyship are actually unhelpful or even detrimental to the end goal of equity and equal access for everyone. This section examines how to distinguish solidarity from other forms of support by analyzing what has (and has not) been effective.
A useful definition of allyship is: The act of directly engaging in learning more information, unlearning harmful ideas, and being in support of a group you do not belong to.
By definition, allyship does not seem too dissimilar to solidarity. However, the major critiques of allyship are that its requirements are too passive, ambiguous in nature, and its main action steps (learning and unlearning) lacking in accountability. Especially in light of George Floyd’s murder and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, many have been eager to proclaim themselves as “allies” without committing to ongoing change -- and quickly losing interest thereafter. Without action to dismantle oppressive systems, allyship is then rightly categorized as optical or performative. (This applies to both those self-identifying as allies and who “stand in solidarity” with others.) Due to this overuse, the word “allyship” can carry with it a negative connotation.
As one participant noted: “True solidarity [in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement] is not just being against racism but being anti-racist. It’s taking that next step after you decide you stand in solidarity with someone.”
This does not mean that allyship is bad, or we should not want to be allies. Instead, we must recognize that allyship -- and its major tenet, self-education -- is just the beginning of a long journey towards creating a more equitable society. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore says,
“Solidarity is constantly being remade. It never just is.”
To co-opt something is well-defined here as “using apparently cooperative practices to absorb those who seek change – to make them work with elites without giving them any new advantages”. In this way, “elites undermine movements by stripping them of their credibility as agents of change”.
Co-opting is particularly visible when done by brands. For example, many brands such as L’Oréal and Amazon posted performative statements in support of Black Lives Matter despite their ugly history of racism and lack of tangible action to change. Some took it one step further, co-opting the BLM slogan and making jewelry from shattered glass of the protests to turn a profit. Celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Awkwafina have also come under fire for their problematic history while vocally supporting BLM.
However, even allies with the best intentions and those with marginalized identities can co-opt the movements of other groups through actions such as:
Diverting attention away from the marginalized group(s) we aim to support and centering our own groups (e.g., the issue behind Yellow Peril Supports Black Power)
Focusing only on a segment of the marginalized group(s) that are more socially accepted or welcomed (e.g., why Black Trans Lives Matter is so important)
Not giving proper credit, cherry-picking, and/or ignoring the decades of effort and work that others have put into harnessing social change (e.g., misappropriating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech as one calling for a colorblind America, or perverting his message about nonviolence)
Engaging in saviorism mentality, especially when it comes to the classic paternal methods of charity (e.g., the underlying problem with free community fridges)
Uplifting members of the dominant group to positions of leadership and authority in a movement for a marginalized group
Rather than co-opting, find ways we can hold space for those we aim to uplift. For example, opening up our social platforms for others to speak; supporting the work of marginalized individuals instead of creating a ‘copy’ (e.g., anti-racism resources from formal educators). We lay out more actions for solidarity in the next chapter.
Integrating Solidarity Practices into Your Everyday and Holding Yourself Accountable
While it may seem like being in solidarity is purely an individual choice, it is important to recognize there are societal structures that create and enforce obstacles to taking action, particularly for marginalized individuals. In this section, we will examine ways Asian Americans, in particular, can overcome these obstacles and deepen their relationship with transformative solidarity.
Combating and Resisting the Scarcity Mentality
“I think we live in a world of selfishness. All the past movements, the civil rights to gain the right to attend schools and so forth, and now that education is being used for ‘everything is for me.’ We have no room to share with others. I think that if [my] story could be told, yes, there is a small room there. There are still deprived people, even more deprived people than in the past. The need to give today is far greater than in my own time.”
- Chol Soo Lee, a Korean American immigrant who was wrongfully imprisoned for 10 years. His arrest and subsequent trials and appeals caused a pan-Asian political movement in the 1970s-80s.
Many online articles encourage overcoming scarcity with the use of a variation of the “abundance mindset” or by focusing less on money and other material items. In these instances, scarcity is treated as a personal problem that can be solved with mental stamina, not a carefully designed and widely accepted system used to undermine Asian Americans and other marginalized identities. Thus, we find this method of “overcoming” scarcity fundamentally flawed.
Instead, we believe combating scarcity requires multi-layered actions that start at the personal level and extend further. Being a proponent of change will require you to not only engage in, but seek out tough conversations that question the status quo.
1. Personal actions: reject the institutional dogma that scarcity is inevitable and a condition of life, therefore everything you gain must come at the expense of someone else. Instead, focus your energy on supporting regenerative efforts in your community and industry that will uplift everyone. Ask yourself before committing to any cause: who really benefits from this?
Educate yourself on how scarcity has been maintained through institutionalized practices in American society. (For example, the false narrative around poor BIPOC ruining the environment.) Honestly assess how this veil of scarcity has impacted your approach to life and work. If you are to unlearn this mentality, in what areas of your life would you try to change its impact first?
One participant explained:
“I’ve been socialized so much to worry about holding onto my own social capital in case I squander it...that I forget the influence I do have.”
Another participant shared they have been changing how they frame the content they produce: “I used to have no qualms about saying this is the best recipe for so and so, this is the one and only ultimate example. Now, I think about how I can redirect people to say, ‘I make it this way, but also check out this other person.’ How can we always be sending eyeballs and clicks to one another?”
Action: Write down examples of how the scarcity mindset shows up in your daily life. Describe the circumstances that led to this mindset—specifically who you are guarding resources from, what you are attempting to protect, and why.
2. In close relationships, such as family and close friends, untangle the web of where scarcity stems from, how it relates to their own identities and perceptions of self, and analyze how it has been detrimental to your community as well as how it’s been used against other groups.
As one participant explained: “white supremacy is all about information absorption” -- that is, white supremacy culture forms the basis of how we learn our own histories, perceive the world around us, and interact with people who do or do not look like us, “so we need to find ways to shift how we learn about and with each other.”
One participant shared that talking about past violence was challenging because her family believes perfectionism (a key aspect of white supremacist culture, see more in next section) can overcome any issues of scarcity and oppression -- and thus, rejected anything that wasn’t perfect. This made it “so hard to come out as a survivor of sexual violence...because if you have a traumatic thing happen to you, especially as a woman, then that whole picture of a ‘perfect’ daughter is gone.”
Action: Set aside time for a conversation with your loved ones about the intergenerational and intersectional differences of scarcity, preferably in a safe and comfortable space (e.g., home). Understand that this conversation will require a lot of patience -- unlearning doesn't happen overnight.
3. With casual relationships, such as acquaintances, offer opportunities for conversations about instances of scarcity being perpetuated. For example, discuss what it means for news sources to consistently frame Central American immigrants as people who are “stealing” jobs, when this has been shown as not the case.
Here, it is important to examine how each person’s intersectional identities can change their response to issues. One participant, who identifies as an Indian immigrant, reflected on how scarcity showed up differently for them, as opposed to Indian Americans: “back in 2016 I had only been in the States for 4 years…so the turmeric latte didn’t trigger me because I didn’t have the experience many Indian Americans had of their food be made fun of.”
Action: Invite these friends to book clubs, discussions, or even an “article exchange” where everyone can safely examine bigger social justice issues. Maintain an open forum for conversation to consistently share personal anecdotes, news, and other educational reads to evolve the group’s thought process. (We offer monthly book and movie discussions.)
4. Professionally, analyze why certain opportunities still feel scarce. How do you tend to react when other marginalized individuals are in the same “room” as you are? If you find yourself feeling competitive or concerned about your own status, is it because of tokenization and quota systems? What are new programs that can be implemented to combat this?
For example, one participant shared how a young BIPOC intern at their work performed poorly because they had no guidance. Instead of “taking steps to help them, myself and others just thought ‘Oh, I’ll just do it’ and that eventually led to [the intern] being seen as not a good worker, when that was not the case. Now I’m more conscious of when and where I can teach others instead of taking it all on myself.”
Action: Address issues of scarcity within your professional sphere of influence (e.g., with peers, your direct supervisor) and initiate implementation of experimental new ideas that will disrupt the existing structures of white dominance in your workplace. (Read our toolkit on Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenization for more on this.)
5. Politically, scarcity is often used as a tool to corral votes through fear and uncertainty about the future. Address these scare tactics in your close, professional, and casual relationships by overturning their logical fallacies and explaining the historical weaponization of scarcity.
Within capitalism, those of lower socioeconomic status are often relegated to a place of moral inferiority that “causes” their state of life, rather than a holistic acknowledgement of what may be unequally or unfairly distributed resources.
As one participant who grew up in Hong Kong said,
“There was a whole lot of anti-Blackness even when there were no white people around to tell us to feel this way,
because we don’t look past the circumstantial parts of how people look, how they act, what they do. [Many Black and Brown individuals in HK are subject to lack of resources/access, and essentially redlined into certain areas.] We don’t switch from the instinctual to analyze the bigger picture, so we fail to address bigger, systemic issues. It’s not ‘just’ the white lens.”
Take Stock of Your Intersectionality Identity
Ask yourself: How do I identify? What dominant groups and non-dominant groups are included in my identity? What privileges do they come with, or lack?
Consider race, gender, sexual orientation, class (both current and childhood), education level, religion, nationality, ethnicity, physical and/or neurodivergence.
Deliberate on the conscious and unconscious biases ingrained in how you were raised and how you live your life today. In addition to scarcity, a Salon participant noted that the cultural norm of “do good but don’t tell anyone” because it is seen as crude to “show off” is both a display of solidarity (giving without expectation) and an interesting challenge to tackle as Asian Americans work to encourage wider involvement in social justice work.
Educate Yourself on the Context and Structure of our Society
The biases we internalize about ourselves, other marginalized groups, and the superiority of the dominant group are not an accident. The dominant culture, by design, has historically controlled the means of production. This includes control over who and how history is told, what narratives are deemed part of public school canon and what is considered “radical”.
For example, one participant shared that on their solidarity journey they have been digging further into the history of the U.S. with people from their background. “Just asking the question, ‘why are there so many Filipinx nurses?’ has been a starting point for me.”
As we increase our discernment, Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture is a useful tool in naming the ways in which our institutions, work places, and schools are based in oppressive norms, how they are used to harm us, and actively reject them when they arise. A few examples our Salon participants noted were:
1. Perfectionism: The false binary that solidarity must be perfect, or it is worthless. This also equates making mistakes as “being a mistake”, as Okun puts it, and results in “little to no learning from mistakes”. This instills feelings of powerlessness, and deters newcomers from beginning the work of social justice. (This is also related to cancel culture below.)
2. “Oppression Olympics”: An anxiety to “prove” our own struggles due to fear that the more extreme oppression of one group erases that suffered by another.
3. Respectability politics as a powerful tool of the dominant group to set arbitrary boundaries on the “worthiness” of marginalized groups, and thus determine who “should” receive support versus who “deserve” to be oppressed. This is often witnessed through the “perfect victim” narrative used to disparage, police, erase, and blame other victims who are seen as less “innocent.”
Especially take note of the problem narratives crafted about marginalized groups, such as films or TV shows like COPS that sensationalize and celebrate police action against primarily Black and Latinx men. It’s also much easier to generalize behaviors of token individuals (whether ones we see throughout visual culture or in our lives), when we are not exposed to a multidimensional representation of that group due to government-sponsored segregation of our neighborhoods.
4. Sense of urgency to accomplish tasks as “efficiently” as possible neglects the reality that nuanced, thoughtful, and conscientiously inclusive processes take time, education, and a concerted team effort.
One participant shared how being in solidarity with their community through a work lens meant ensuring their publication took the proper time and care to interact with and interview members of a culture before publishing recipes and food content based on that culinary history. This required convincing apprehensive colleagues that the “extra” time and effort was worthwhile and necessary, compared to their prior systems. “It has been such a joy to learn the stories [of people in the diaspora], to tell them there is column space reserved for their words.”
5. Defensiveness during any conversations about race and privilege, because, as Okun writes, “criticism of those with power is viewed as threatening and inappropriate”. Given this unfortunate dynamic of fragility and sensitivity, some participants mentioned they have found it helpful to share a video or article to center difficult conversations around a specific topic. Another participant mentioned sharing personal experiences of what they experienced and unpacking them with the group helped create a point of access. (Please do this with caution and an awareness of your own personal and emotional boundaries.)
6. Prioritizing and rewarding public displays of support versus private work, even when these actions are ineffective or harmful. While “consciousness raising” is an important initial step for change, those of us with privileged identities are socially conditioned to assume this is enough for structural overhaul.
Ask yourself why you are taking the public action you are, and if it is to the benefit of the movement or to yourself. Have you done the necessary research to understand the true benefits of this work? Did you ask those supposedly benefiting from the movement if this is what they wanted?
7. Cancel culture where prominent figures (primarily white ones) can “bounce back” from being “cancelled”, but often BIPOC cannot.
While cancel culture initially began on Black Twitter as “the idea that Black people should be empowered to reject the parts of pop culture that spread harmful ideas” (Vox) it has been co-opted itself to create an environment where “people avoid meaningful conversations when hypervigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes” (NYT) and is not conducive to learning or standing “in between” certain ideals or actions.
8. Emphasis on punishment instead of transformative justice. Given that the police force was created to track enslaved people who escaped, it is unsurprising to see it continuously protect the dominant class and perpetuate their prejudices (e.g., racism, sexism, ableism).
However, our notions of justice, peace, and protection have been taught through the lens of punishment, criminalization, and policing. These are reactive measures that do not solve underlying issues such as growing economic inequality and systemic racism, but do help us feel vindicated enough to continue supporting an oppressive cycle. (Read more about transformative justice in the Glossary.)
Action: Ask yourself how you may have, intentionally or not, caused harm to the groups you want to stand in solidarity with. What are you doing now to address that harm without causing more harm?
Examine what you have accepted as “normal” and what you continue to consume today. Challenge yourself to diversify the ways you acquire and engage with both history and current events. (See our Resources for good places to start.) Some questions to ask as you continue to absorb new information are:
Who is the writer/creator/producer with the most creative control?
Who has editing authority?
Who is the funder? Distributor?
Are the most impacted people centered?
How is credit given?
Has the person/brand/channel shared anything about this issue before? If so, when? What did they say?
As one participant recounted, even “volunteering in the Peace Corps, I realized that the training manual language was written for volunteers that were white, middle class, heterosexual. It made it difficult to relate to [as a POC] and reinforced the already largely homogenous group of volunteers.” As a result, they took it upon themselves to review the training manual page-by-page with a fellow BIPOC peer, together providing recommendations of changes to the Peace Corps management.
Define Solidarity For Yourself
Developing your own personal ethos of solidarity is an important internal process. While this toolkit offers both academic and anecdotal definitions of solidarity, it’s necessary for you to define what solidarity really means in your life. Some questions to consider are:
1. Who do I want to stand in solidarity with? Consider the same intersectional factors as you did your own identity.
Do I understand the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion? (We like this video from activist Ashtin Berry about this.)
What type of relationships do I have with individuals from the group(s) I want to stand in solidarity with? What does intimacy with these communities look like?
What are the major issues that affect members from the group(s) I want to stand in solidarity with? How nuanced is my understanding of these issues? How can I learn more about the root causes that allow these issues to continue? In what ways are these issues connected to one another?
2. What does solidarity mean to me?
Why is solidarity important to me? What motivates me to stand in solidarity with others?
What does sustained maintenance of solidarity look/feel like? Recognize that issue fatigue is real, and a sustainable practice of solidarity also includes self-compassion.
What are the best ways I can show solidarity? What talents/passions can I offer in movement spaces? (We recommend using this toolkit, Mapping Our Roles in A Social Change Ecosystem to help begin your exploration.)
How much research, reading, and learning/unlearning am I willing to seek out? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? How does my understanding of solidarity change with my acquisition of more knowledge?
What am I (and what am I not) willing to personally sacrifice to stand in solidarity with those I want to support? (e.g., not order from Amazon, not watch Mulan)
What are the end goals I want to achieve with my solidarity? Are they in line with the overall mission of reducing overall harm in our society? (See our Glossary for more about transformative justice.)
3. What delineates solidarity from performative allyship in my life?
What are the actions I’ve seen that I find to be performative? Why?
Are there people I follow, watch, listen to that may be performative in their actions? How do I properly examine and reconcile this?
What are the actions I’ve seen that are getting to the root of issues I care about? How can I instill them in my actions of solidarity?
What am I willing to do in solidarity with others that I do not mention publicly?
4. What are instances I experienced or witnessed where supposed solidarity or allyship did not work the way it intended?
What were the main problems with the message/action in question?
What can I do in order to prevent doing this?
What does co-opting look like to me, and how do I ensure I do not participate?
Am I willing to acknowledge when I am wrong and/or lack knowledge? How do I tend to react in these kinds of situations?
Hold Yourself and Others Accountable
Our theory of social change is that it happens one relationship at a time. Even when oppressive systems are named and recognized, it can feel overwhelming to continually address these inequalities -- especially if you hold dominant identities that shield you from certain daily traumas of holding a marginalized position within our society. Continuity will be the hardest aspect of a sustainable solidarity practice; suggestions from our Salon participants to preserve stamina and hold both yourself and those around you committed to doing the work are:
1. Forming accountability groups within your personal, professional, and community circles to meet at regular intervals and help bridge knowledge into action. A cadence we have found effective are monthly meetings in addition to an ongoing discussion channel (e.g., Slack, Whatsapp, group text). We recommend rotating responsibilities across the group (e.g., one person is in charge of distributing new reads to other members every other week) in order to distribute the workload. Writer and community organizer Mia Mingus also offers her method via this pod-mapping worksheet.
If you are unsure how to broach this topic with the group, a simple way to begin is to join or start an articles/news, book, and/or movie club to give everyone a specific set of content to build the discussion around. (We also host a monthly book club and monthly movie discussion at the Studio.)
Once you’ve identified where, and with whom, you can exert the most influence, examine what the underlying power structures are in these relationships. What sort of social or professional capital do you have over these situations? What kind of power do those you are interacting with have in the situation? What are specific goals you have in mind for everyone in this group?
2. Setting a timeline and metrics for change. While change never happens at the pace we desire, it is helpful to set quantitative and qualitative goals to serve as both motivation and evaluation. For example, one participant shared that their workplace has announced a commitment to amplifying the voices of BIPOC at the organization -- but what does that actually look like in 3, 6, 12 months?
Below are some templates to help you first name the changes you expect to see:
Once the initial overture has been made to a group or organization, forming an accountability group (see #1) to consistently follow up and analyze the action steps (or lack thereof) that has been taken is key to ensuring change is systematic and programmatic -- that is, reflected in mandated policies instead of instances of individual goodwill.
3. Finding ongoing ways of supporting those who are doing the work of educating and leading the way for others.
Direct financial and resource allocation include crediting and paying educators -- which include content creators -- as well as contributing to mutual aid groups (see Glossary) in your area. If you are able, commit to a regular schedule of donations, even if they are in small increments -- every dollar absolutely makes a difference. Set a numerical target for yourself when it comes to education, unlearning, and monetary allocation -- what percentage of your monthly or yearly time, resources, and income can you commit to this work?
4. Finding an organizational home is also incredibly helpful to sustain your involvement while bringing joy, camaraderie, and community into your life! Look for volunteer opportunities at grassroots organizations and mutual aid networks, as well as neighborhood, community, or school boards you sit on. Many big policies are first formulated and shaped at the local level -- from zoning mandates to school funding -- that later have major impacts on the community.
Once you have decided on where to invest your energy, assess what skills and talents you can provide and enjoy the most. (For example, if you are an introvert perhaps a phone bank is not the right activity for you!) Some simple ways to help include committing to a regular volunteering schedule, making yourself available for ad hoc projects, and promoting (e.g., resharing, fundraising) their work in your own circles of influence.
5. Align your finances and lifestyle with social impact. Examine the ways you benefit from the oppressive systems in our society, and decide which parts you can remove or change in your life. For example, monetarily you can decide to consciously invest in BIPOC backed ventures and/or purposefully divest from capital helmed by the dominant group.
When it comes to who you interact with regularly, if that group is extremely homogeneous, what are ways you can build genuine relationships with those who are different from you? Are there new activities you can learn, new places you can become a patron, new types of groups you can join that centers the needs of marginalized identities?
6. Build in time for self care. Issue fatigue is real, as is feeling demoralized, unmotivated, and exhausted. Accept that you cannot fix every issue our society faces, and it is okay (and necessary) for you to focus your energies on a select few.
Make sure you do have a plan to take care of yourself, in whatever capacity nourishes and replenishes you. Even small actions matter, such as simply resting, via naps, and nourishing your body with good food.
Understand That Solidarity Is A Process That Takes Many Forms
Like any other practice, solidarity requires upkeep. As one participant shared,
“we will never be perfect at being in solidarity [with others], but we can always keep trying and acknowledging we may not always get it right.”
Solidarity does not always mean big, grandiose, or public action. One participant shared that a meaningful instance of solidarity was when their work colleague, a white male, interrupted the person who had cut them off and said, “actually, I wanted to hear what they wanted to say.”
One participant explained how they practice solidarity through cooking with individuals of different ethnicities as a means to amplify their voices and build something collaboratively. Another participant expressed solidarity by creating challenging artwork to highlight issues about privilege and access.
These are just two small examples of the multitude of ways in which solidarity can be shown, we encourage you to find your own!
Allyship: From the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault: “The act of directly engaging in learning more information, unlearning harmful ideas, and being in support of a group you do not belong to.” Someone who self-identifies as an ally or “stands in solidarity” with others can be viewed as providing allyship.
Appropriation: Cultural appropriation occurs when someone of another group adopts aspects or practices of another group, especially if it is done so out of context (e.g., a white person using Native American headdress for a Halloween costume). It is particularly problematic when members of the dominant group take cultural elements from a historically marginalized group in order to profit from it. Cultural appropriation trivializes systemic and historical oppression while perpetuating negative stereotypes.
Assimilation: From Wikipedia: “Cultural assimilation is the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble a dominant group or assume the values, behaviors, and beliefs of another group.” While a minority group can assimilate into the dominant group culture, this does not mean acceptance by the dominant group. Assimilation may also be voluntary or involuntary and be accompanied by acculturation.
BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, people of color. This acronym specifically calls out the nuanced experiences of Black and Indigenous folx.
Capitalism: From Merriam-Webster: “An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”
Within our current system of capitalism, the end goal is to accumulate wealth, and that has been done at the expense of the working class. While in the U.S. our mixed economy utilizes government intervention to create certain safety nets for rights such as housing, food, and healthcare, it is not enough. As legendary capitalist Ray Dalio writes in Why and How Capitalism Needs to be Reformed:
“Most capitalists don’t know how to divide the economic pie well and most socialists don’t know how to grow it well...we are now at a juncture in which people of different ideological inclinations will work together to skillfully re-engineer the system so that the pie is both divided and grown well or we will have great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.”
Classism: Prejudice or discrimination due to one’s social class. This can be based on a variety of factors including individual / generational wealth, education level/prestige, and occupation. Often, classism assumes moral or character traits in those of a lower class while overlooking the discriminatory structures that prevent equal access to advancing one’s social status.
Colorism: Prejudice or discrimination due to one’s skin color, where an individual with lighter skin is treated more favorably than another individual with darker skin. Colorism can also be viewed as privilege conferred on an individual for having lighter skin. Colorism and classism also often go hand in hand: across Asia, having darker skin color is often viewed as “undesirable” given its associations with the skin color of a laborer.
Critical Race Theory (CRT): Critical race theory is a framework developed in the 1970s and 1980s to understand and combat systemic racism in a post civil-rights era. CRT “argues, as a starting point, that the axis of American social life is fundamentally constructed in race,” but “this idea has been purposefully ignored, subdued, and marginalized in both the dominant and public discourse.” (Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice) CRT questions the ability of societal structures, such as law and law enforcement, to counteract white supremacy when perpetuating false notions of colorblindness and post-racialism, among others.
CRT’s principles are rooted in lived experiences and social movements, and have grown across disciplines. Founding CRT scholars — including Kimberlé Crenshaw — were mostly Black, but quickly expanded to incorporate other marginalized communities and involve other racial conversations. Mari Matsuda was among this first wave of scholars, and asked as early as 1990 if Asian-Americans were becoming the “racial bourgeoisie.”
Dominant Group: The group of people in society who have the most access to power, privilege, and social status and face the least amount of discrimination and potential to be harmed by others. Societal, legal, and institutional systems in place are built by and for the dominant group to expressly keep them in power at the expense of marginalized groups. The dominant group in the United States is white people, and more specifically wealthy, cisgender, heterosexual, affluent, white men.
Elitism: Preference for individuals attributed to belonging to the elite class, a select group of people that can be based on both intrinsic (e.g., conformity to current beauty standards, “measurable” intelligence) or extrinsic qualities (e.g., expertise in special skills, wealth).
Intersectionality: A theoretical framework by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw that posits multiple social categories (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status) intersect at the micro level (individual experience) to reflect interlocking systems of privilege and/or oppression at the macro (social-structural) level, such as a combination of racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
Marginalized Identities: People who have, and continue to, suffer from inequities in our society, including: women, Black people, indigenous people, non-Black people of color, poor people, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and LGBTQIA+ people.
Marginalization: The prevention or limitation of full participation in society. This can be observed through overt exclusions from opportunities in the job market, healthcare system, public benefit programs, and community activities, as well as through covert pressures to hide aspects of one’s authentic self due to fears of ostracization.
Model Minority Myth: A harmful narrative based on stereotypes of Asian Americans as a highly successful, upwardly mobile group that have outperformed other racial minorities. In the model minority myth, the success of Asian Americans is usually attributed to an innate ability and/or strong cultural norms and is used to suggest Asian Americans no longer face discrimination and do not need additional governmental or societal support.
Mutual Aid: Mutual aid has long been a practice of marginalized populations and is built on the principles of self-organization, egalitarianism, direct action, and the desire for social transformation. From Civil Eats, “Mutual aid has historically described grassroots efforts that link real needs among the people (such as the need for food) with an inherently politicized approach to getting that need met over the long term. And, typically, mutual aid efforts operate from the assumption that only the fundamental transformation of society can truly meet those needs, and aid is mobilized in service of that larger goal”.
Oppression: Privilege, power, and dominance by certain groups at the expense of others. Some common forms of oppression are white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and ableism.
Paternalism / Paternal Charity: Acts of charity that are paternalistic in nature. That is, “relating to or characterized by the restriction of the freedom and responsibilities of subordinates or dependents in their supposed interest.” (Oxford Dictionary)
This is a form of saviorism, where the dominant group believes they are entitled to make decisions on behalf of those receiving the charity. The most common example is the buy-one-give-one model popularized by TOMS. Another example is the placement of free community fridges in low-income neighborhoods. While often widely praised in the (white dominant) media as an effective and “feel good” means of helping others, paternalistic charity often lacks direct communication and accountability to the very community it aspires to support.
Performative Allyship: A lack of ongoing action or accountability in allyship. As a form of performative allyship, individuals and brands can “stand in solidarity” with others without actually taking action or any meaningful steps to dismantle systems of oppression.
Privilege: An advantage, special right, or immunity granted to an individual based on certain factors such as race or gender. (However, privileges may not always be applicable to every individual within the group.) For example, white teenagers are able to move through public spaces without worrying obsessively about safety while Black teenagers cannot. Even the liking of healthy, but slightly bitter, vegetables like broccoli is rooted in privilege.
Racism: The belief that the race and/or ethnicity of an individual determines distinct behavioral traits or characteristics and an inherent superiority in certain individuals over others. Racism, in conjunction of institutional power, is used to create and justify forms of systemic discrimination and oppression.
Internalized racism is the conscious (or subconscious) acceptance of the dominant group’s racist stereotypes and negative biases of one’s own race.
Racial Capitalism: A system that derives social and economic value from racial identity, often in the form of exploitation. Racial capitalism was first explored by Cedric Robinson in his seminal text Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983), which critiqued Marxism for failing to consider the racial nature of capitalist (and colonialist) projects.
Saviorism: Saviorism, in particular, white saviorism refers to the idea in which “a white person, or white culture, rescues people of color from their own situation or themselves.” Because the savior’s actions are seen as benevolent, they are not challenged or seen as a threat to the person or culture that is being “saved.” For example, Western white women calling for the “freeing” of Muslim women from wearing a hijab without consulting Muslim women if that is something they actually want.
Saviorism tends to be practiced by the dominant group in society, namely white men. However, marginalized individuals can also exhibit the white savior complex by, for example, more easily accepting expertise if it comes from a white male source versus a non-white, non-male expert. This is simply the result of internalized white male supremacy.
Saviors are products of our system of values, and exist in all facets of society. For example, voluntourism. Consider this article from No White Savior’s Resource list, Why Are White People Expats When The Rest of Us Are Immigrants.
Scarcity Mentality: Scarcity mentality is the idea that everyone exists along a spectrum of competition instead of collaboration. This mindset assumes there is a finite amount of resources and assets (tangible or intangible), and every resource obtained by one person or group is at the expense of another. Therefore, resources should only be reserved for those in our closest circle(s).
Solidarity: An awareness, understanding, and unity as a result of shared identities, interests, or shifting opportunity structures. (Tormos, 2017) Solidarity can be expressed within a group (in-group solidarity) or to another group (out-group solidarity), where membership to a group is formed on axes such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and profession.
In an intersectional approach to solidarity, there is an ongoing process of creating ties and coalitions across social group differences by negotiating power asymmetries. Solidarity requires one to recognize and represent all intersectionally marginalized social groups formed by multiple interactions and linkages between different social structures and lived experiences.
Tokenization: From Wikipedia: “The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people (tokens) from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality.”
Tokenism gives those in power the appearance of being non-racist and even champions of diversity because they recruit and use BIPOC as racialized props, while in actuality maintaining power structures that they benefit from.
Transformative Justice (TJ): From Transform Harm: “A political framework and approach for responding to violence, harm and abuse. At its most basic, it seeks to respond to violence without creating more violence and/or engaging in harm reduction to lessen the violence. TJ can be thought of as a way of ‘making things right,’ getting in ‘right relation,’ or creating justice together.”
Transformative justice responses and interventions are based on the principles of not relying on state/governmental enforcement (e.g., police), not reinforcing or perpetuating violence (e.g., criminalizing offenders), and actively cultivating practices that prevent violence (e.g., social safety nets that prevent the major causes of crime, such as poverty and abuse).
Asian American Police Violence
Peter Liang: In 2014, Peter Liang, a relatively new Chinese American graduate of the New York City Police Academy, fired his gun and killed Akai Gurley. Liang was initially charged with manslaughter (the first NYPD officer convicted of an on-duty shooting in over a decade) before it was reduced to criminally negligent homicide. Supporters of Liang claimed he was a scapegoat who did not receive equal support from the police and officers’ union compared to white officers. While this may be true, it also obscures the larger issue of police brutality against Black Americans by turning two marginalized groups against one another.
Tou Thao: In 2020, Tou Thao, a Hmong American officer with a history of use-of-force incidents, stood watching while a white officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck and killed him. While Thao was charged with aiding-and-abetting second-degree manslaughter, his passive involvement at the time of the crime symbolized to many the troubling willingness of Asian Americans to ignore harm happening to Black Americans in favor of upholding their place within a white-dominant society.
Asian American Solidarity Movements
Oxnard Strike of 1903: In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers banded together to create the first multiracial labor union, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association. They successfully fought back against the actions of the American Beet Sugar Company and Western Agricultural Contracting Company for the lowering of wages and other grievances. This strike is notable for being the first time different racial groups allied together to create a labor union, especially as racial groups had historically been pitted against each other by those in power.
Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s: Filipino-led labor group Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee started this strike in 1965 to demand better working conditions and pay. Knowing that Mexican laborers would be brought